Brown University becomes first Ivy League school to ban ‘caste oppression’

Brown University
Passers-by walk and ride along a path on the campus of Brown University, in Providence, R.I., Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Brown University becomes first Ivy League school to ban ‘caste oppression’

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Brown University has updated its nondiscrimination policy to prohibit “caste oppression” in a first for an Ivy League institution.

The university, based in Providence, Rhode Island, announced the change last week as a necessary update, in part due to the growing South Asian population within the United States.

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The caste system that originated in India is a rigid hierarchy that grants social status to people based on their occupation, family background, or religion. In its press release announcing the update, Brown University said that “caste-based discrimination and harassment can persist in some environments among groups of South Asian descent.”

“Our nondiscrimination policies exist to ensure we’re protecting people and to ensure the University environment is free of hurt and harm. We have a long-standing commitment to this work, and it is engrained into the fabric of who we are,” Brown Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity Sylvia Carey-Butler said.

The update, Carey-Butler said, is largely a symbolic action, as the previous nondiscrimination policy would have barred caste-based discrimination but that it was important to single it out in the policy.

“The previous policy would have protected people experiencing caste discrimination. But we felt it was important to lift this up and explicitly express a position on caste equity,” Carey-Butler said.

Brown is the first Ivy League institution to add caste discrimination to its official nondiscrimination policy, but other non-Ivy League schools have recently added the language to their policies. In January, the entire California State University system added caste to its official nondiscrimination policies.

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In October, two Hindu professors filed a lawsuit against the Cal State system over the policy, saying it unfairly singled out the Hindu religion and maligned it as oppressive and discriminatory.

“We fully and vehemently oppose all forms of prejudice and discrimination,” plaintiff Sunil Kumar said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “But CSU’s Interim Policy singles out all Indian origin and Hindu staff and students solely because we are Indian and Hindu. This by its very definition is discrimination and a denial of our basic civil rights.”

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